Teams, Leadership and Being Online (All. The. Time.)

And we are back to a lockdown – of sorts. Across the country we are seeing people in various levels of home-ness, and you are likely not at your happiest point. Some people just hunker down and avoid the world, others put on a brave face and march on. Some people deny it, others may outwardly fight against it.


I have been doing some ‘light’ reading on Self-Determination Theory. The premise is that there are three psychological needs we have: autonomy, competence and relatedness. These needs are the essence of existence, and are as fundamental as food and water. How well we are able to fulfill our psychological needs is dependant on the environment that we are in. Some environments are needs supporting, others are needs depriving - the conditions in which we operate matter.


There is a good reason we need these things. How we feel is controlled by our hormones. After thousands of years of evolution, Mother Nature helped us survive by offering us a host of chemicals that impact how we feel, and thereby how we behave both as individuals and members of groups. We exist as both an individual and a collective at all times – we are always part of some group. Simon Sinek in his book “Leaders Eat Last” highlights the tension of the individual and the collective – what is good for the group may not be good for the individual and vice versa. Without the “selfish chemicals” of endorphins and dopamine we would lack the motivation to successfully pursue our prey and potentially starve to death. And without the cooperative chemicals of connection in serotonin and oxytocin we would be isolated cold-blooded zombies unable to work with others to successfully pursue our prey. And so – we need to be autonomous, capable and connected – all at the same time.


This is the challenge we see ourselves in right now. We have to be more autonomous than ever, but we are doing it for others. The reasons we usually do things for others is that we feel connected to them – but despite our personal lock downs for society we feel more alone than ever.


My mentor and fellow Architect John Clarke and I were discussing this paradox. It started with a comment we have been hearing from leaders in law, healthcare and education: “how on earth do I keep a sense of team and comradery when I can’t get us all together?” How we used to connect with each other was often over lunch, coffee, or a drink at the end of the day. Coffee chats online are just not the same. We are lacking the “mojo” (aka hormones) we could get from our teams in that face to face interaction. We keep trying to find ways to connect with others, looking to stimulate the serotonin and oxytocin in our lives through a computer screen.


I posed a question: “What if part of the issue is that we have just gotten a bit lazy on how we structure, organize, and engage with our teams? What if we rely on the informal too much?” Here is our theory: instead of relying on the informal connections to build trust and relationships with others, we have to become REALLY good at making all aspects of work meaningful. Operating in a virtual environment does not mean that the social needs we have as humans disappear – in fact it means we have to be more purposeful. We need to hone our skills in how we structure meetings, our work, decision making, and sharing of ideas with a focused intention to tap the cognitive capital of our thinking workforce.


From that discussion John and I looked to the bodies of work we train others on that identify HOW you collaborate, facilitate and lead individuals and teams in a way that fosters that collectivity – online or otherwise. We looked at how you honour the autonomy, competence and relatedness of everyone at the table. We have distilled the research and the practical tools together in a two and a half-hour workshop that answers the question: how do I facilitate teams and lead in a way that supports team and comradery in an online world?

Join John and me on Friday Jan 22 at 8:00 am MT, Tuesday February 9 4:00 MT or Wednesday February 24 at 11:00 MT for our Facilitating Teams in a Virtual World workshop that will make you think, and most importantly - help you “do”. As a side note, I promise I will work in “the zombie theory” at some point in the session. I do love zombies.


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